George Lucas Educational Foundation

Travel Offers Learning Without Borders for High School Students

High school students at the International School of the Americas (ISA) in Texas foster connections with a community of their peers worldwide through small classes, travel opportunities, and plenty of time for formal and informal exchanges. Read the article.
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Student: This plan specifically called for a transitional government which would govern Iraq until the elections would be held in the summer 2005.

Narrator: This mock United Nations caucus is part of the curriculum at ISA, the International School of the Americas.

Student: Every nation in here would have a copy of the coalition's timeline.

Narrator: At this magnet school in San Antonio, Texas field trips begin at the local museum, move to the local mission, and end in the interior of Mexico.

Shari: We asked the question, could we use our proximity to Mexico two hours away as an international learning laboratory? Could this become the International School of the Americas where kids were immersed in global learning? Could we do high schooling differently? Could we create a place that felt personal and involved where students' voice was really important?

Student: I think community also plays a role almost bigger than religion.

Narrator: The ten-year ISA experiment has succeeded thanks in large measure to the imagination of its teaching staff.

Kathy: When we have a new idea and we say "Hey, I have this crazy idea, we want to take 120 students to Mexico for six days." Many people would say "What are you crazy? We can't do that." And here that type of out-of-the-box, innovative thinking is really encouraged.

Teacher: I think at this point then, it's more important to get as many ideas out on the table as you can, so you got teen pregnancy-

Kathy: We've get kids who are looking for something different. Sometimes it's kids who want to be more challenged more academically. Sometimes it's kids who want a smaller environment.

So will you talk a little bit about what you were trying to show in this image?

I think at this point we've built this culture where it is cool to be academic.

Narrator: To build the school culture teachers work in teams across disciplines doing whatever it takes, even driving the bus.

Kathy: Unfortunately taking field trips is expensive and we have to pay our drivers and it's very expensive. And so I went and got my bus driving license as did several other members of our staff so that when we go on field trips I can drive the bus, and then it doesn't cost the kids anything.

Narrator: At ISA every field trip is a focused, interactive learning experience that links the classroom with the outside world.

Linda: These particular masks were used for what?

Student: Religious purposes?

Linda: So much of what you see, you learn from. On a trip out of the country you learn every moment. If we can use that learning and incorporate it into what we're trying to do then it enriches what we're doing in the classroom and it makes the experience more whole.

Teacher: When we go to Monterey I believe we're going to go to the museum there. You're going to see many portraits of monjas coronadas.

Narrator: ISA has become a professional development school for nearby Trinity University giving their student teachers a global perspective on learning.

Student: The purpose was it's like the focal point of the costume for a dance drama.

Angela: We're creating this idea in our beginning teachers that you are a teacher not only in the classroom but a teacher of the world, that you are an expeditionary teacher who takes students out into the world to learn a little bit. It's very intense, it's very challenging to travel with students but the benefits curricularly, intellectually, socially, emotionally, are immeasurable.

Student: I'm Captain Kelly Mason of the United States Navy, and I'm here today on leave to join you today in this town meeting.

Narrator: While a typical high school American History lesson might focus on dates, this turn of the century town meeting role play teaches context and tolerance.

Student: We've been chosen by God for greatness and it is our job, it is our duty and our obligation to go to these troubled heathen-filled countries and teach the Word of God and to teach them how to be educated.

Student: I think really the economical [sic] standpoint and all the trading would be what we'd have to focus on and not all the moral standpoints because I don't know if that's really going to help the United States.

John: The idea that they have a voice that they're expected to vocalize for themselves, I think encourages that ability to speak up, to be heard.

Student: It's the same issue, different presidents, different countries.

John: And then I think the skill is also developed to sit back and listen to others and not always have to be in the forefront of what's going on.

Student: A lot of my good friends have totally different views than I do. And before I was just like I had no idea like "Why would you think that?" But after this simulation and past simulations that I've done, now I understand why they think that way, even though I don't agree, at least I understand why.

Student: The coalition forces have had a lot of problems with the Islamic militant groups in Iraq.

Narrator: To help students understand and accept the views of people around the globe ISA established a Model United Nations program sponsored by the city of San Antonio the group hosts an annual convention and participates in other Model U.N. gatherings around the world.

Elizabeth: All those wishing to speak to the pro, please raise your placards: China, United States.

Russell: There is intensive academic research. There is intense writing involved. There is important interpersonal skills that kids have to really learn how to work with each other in a diplomatic fashion and that's something that's not- does not come natural to the teenager.

Student: Motion unmoderated caucus for ten minutes.

Narrator: Every ISA sophomore takes a class that prepares them to act as a country's delegate.

Student: All closed.

Narrator: And some students elect to continue their Model U.N. experience in a club that meets after school.

Elizabeth: So one year I represented Iran and Iran's official position at the time was not my official position on women, I can tell you, so by using Model United Nations as a tool, you can teach students to take the position of a country whose views may not necessarily be their own.

Student: We need to foster that idea of local government at the root which-

Elizabeth: I've seen students come out of their shells, learn to speak eloquently, succinctly, and to think on their feet and know when their ideas are good and should be heard and know when to shut their mouths which is something that real professionals need to do sometimes.

Student: The United States considering the topic we're here to debate doesn't feel the need to answer that question.

Shari: I think they graduate with an emotional intelligence and that's really important for success in our world today. They're very savvy at understanding group dynamics and I think that's one of the most important gifts they walk away with. I think they also walk away as learners. It is very cool to be smart here, and our students walk out the door believing that.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Diane Demée-Benoit
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Tom Hennig
  • Alex Herrera


  • Kari Barber


  • Joe DeFrancesco

Additional Footage Provided by

  • Cinema North East, North East School of the Arts

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leo Merle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great example of U.S. schools broadening their horizons, exploring other countries, and gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for opinions and perspectives from across borders.

Marge Tye Zuba,Ed.D.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This video is thrilling to watch. It is a sign of hope for the future of our planet. The staff at ISA can be most proud of their scholarship, passion and belief in the capacity of the students to embrace a hunger for learning and problem solving. Thank you.


Mai Kou Xiong's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is wonderful that your students can do this! It not only benefit the students but teachers too. I will be taking 25 students to Thailand in December!

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